First woman graduates from Sniper School-

Senior Airman Jennifer Donaldson -USAF Photo

Senior Airman Jennifer Donaldson from the Illinois Air National Guard has become the first woman to be trained at the only U.S. military sniper school open to females. She was graduated April 14, 2001 from the National Guard Sniper School's first countersniper course for Air Guard security force personnel.

She was nicknamed "G.I. Jane" at Camp - Robinson in central Arkansas, near Little Rock. That's where the senior airman from the Illinois Air National Guard became the first woman to complete the only U.S. military sniper school open to females.

Donaldson and seven men graduated April 14 from the first countersniper program for Air Guard security force personnel conducted by the 8-year-old National Guard Sniper School. It was the first program of its kind for any U.S. Air Force component. "The Air Force has been the only ground combat force in this country that does not employ snipers and countersnipers," said Army Guard Sgt. 1st Class Ben Dolan, a former Marine sniper and the school's chief instructor.

Completing the course made Donaldson, a security forces specialist from the Air National Guard's 183rd Fighter Wing in Springfield, Ill., the first woman student for the National Guard's pilot training program for security people charged with protecting air bases and airplanes. "I've admired policemen since I was a little kid," Donaldson said. "I want to get as much training as I can get. This sounded interesting."

She and her partner, Staff Sgt. Frank Tallman from Kentucky, were the first team to complete and pass a 2.7-mile land navigation course through thick woods that day. She was steeling herself to do another three-hour course that night.

"I had no idea it would be this hard," said Donaldson after her first week. "I've been in the Guard for a year. I've done basic training and tech school. But I've never seen this kind of physical training. Some of us had to get fit while we were here.

The 14 straight days of strenuous physical and mental training is grounded in the idea that the best way to detect a sniper is with another sniper, said Dolan. Detecting practice targets as small as a pencil, sketching structures where enemy snipers could be concealed, and memorizing minute details about an enemy unit's size, uniforms and equipment were part of the drill for the students who spent as much time on their stomachs as they did on their feet.

Donaldson was eligible to attend the school because women belong to Air Guard and Air Force security forces, Dolan explained. That is not the case in the Army and the Marines because snipers are part of those infantry forces, and women cannot be in the infantry. Dolan, however, maintains that more women should be trained as snipers.

"Frankly, women are better suited mentally for this job than most men," said Dolan who has learned the sniper craft from the Marines and from the Army and who saw duty as a Marine sniper 10 years ago during the Persian Gulf War. "A woman is best suited to counter a woman sniper," he added. "That's important because more than 50 percent of the countries that have been considered hostile to the United States, including North Vietnam and North Korea, have used women snipers.

"Women can shoot better, by and large, and they're easier to train because they don't have the inflated egos that a lot of men bring to these programs," Dolan said. "Women will ask for help if they need it, and they will tell you what they think." Dolan has designed the countersniper program for Air National Guard security people, and he has no reservations about training women who can handle the 15-hour days of running and shooting and camouflage lessons in the woods.

The students had to complete a two-day and night field training exercise at the Arkansas National Guard's Fort Chaffee before they graduated. "The same standards apply to men and women," Dolan insisted. "This course is designed to test their physical limits and their emotional balance." Despite Donaldson's concerns, Dolan said, the sniper school's first woman student shot well with her scope-mounted, high-power rifle on the range and was an above average student.
Source: USAF Press Release

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